Surly Questions is back again with YA author Rachel Desilets. Her recently released novelette, Hipstopia, is available now! Thanks for taking the time, Rachel!
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I wrote my first short story in 4th grade. I didn’t understand how dialogue worked, so I ended up with a giant block of text and quotes everywhere. My mother saw it and (as the English teacher in the family) corrected everything I was doing wrong. I’ve written a lot of beginnings, never to visit the story again.
In 2011, I decided it was now or never and wrote a novel in a week. During NaNoWriMo, I finished novel number two. They were both terrible, but the fact is: I finished. That’s when I knew I could actually do it. That’s when I started taking myself more seriously as a writer.
Tell us about your debut YA novelette, Hipstopia.
Hipstopia originally started out as a joke through a twitter conversation. But once I started to think about it, I couldn’t get the characters out of my head.
Hipstopia is the city that formed after the Hipster uprising. Murphy led the revolution, kicking out everyone who believed in corporate personhood. It’s told from Jay’s perspective – and he tries to be the perfect hipster, the right-hand man to Murphy. It’s a coming-of-age story, where Jay makes plenty of realizations about himself, Murphy, and Hipstopia.
You write about Young Adult literature for the Examiner. What is it that drew you to YA, as compared to other genres?
Most young adult books, no matter what genre, tend to focus on relationships. When I grew up, friendships and relationships taught me who I was. I love that YA explores these bonds that change us, and I love how young adult forces main characters to find themselves – for better or worse. This isn’t definitive of all young adult, but it is pertinent in most.
What does your typical writing day look like?
In between projects, my writing days are non-existent. I have a really hard time getting focused after I self-publish. When I am actively writing, I set aside time every single day. I’m very goal oriented, so I usually go by word count, anywhere between 1,000 to 2,000. Usually if I reach 500 words, the rest comes easy – getting into can be hard. Sometimes it requires lots and lots of tea.
What has been the most rewarding thing about connecting with other writers through social media?
Actually finishing my first book! Seriously, G+ and my husband saved my writing life. Connecting with writers before NaNoWriMo was perfect, because all of us were charged to write more, write faster, and write every day. It was such a treat to do something so solitary in a writing hangout, taking breaks to chat, before getting back into it.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
To just do it. My husband was a huge supporter of my writing – he saw me start and abandon projects. He knew I had a huge problem with finishing what I started, partly because I was scared of failure. He knew I needed to convince myself I could do it and remove my self-doubts. I know now that perfection comes with editing, not with the first draft. If you never finish the first draft, you’ll never finish the book.
Tell us about your other project, The Unanswerable.
The Unanswerable is the first in a conquel series called The UnSeries. Matthew is trapped in New York City during a mutated ebola outbreak with his wife and son. They have to try to navigate the city, which has devolved into absolute chaos. It’s dark with just a sliver of hope.
It’s currently being edited, with the release date to be determined (hopefully this year).
Who inspires you?
I’ve already explained how my husband has been instrumental to my writing life – so I’m going to say other authors. I read a lot, which has improved my writing and keeps me motivated. It forces me to come up with new, original ideas.
Are there any other exciting projects in your future?
I have the sequel to Hipstopia (currently untitled) that I have to write, edit, and publish by the end of next year, which is good since I needed a NaNoWriMo project! I recently finished No Sugar Coating, a young adult magical realism novel, which will be released sometime in the beginning of next year.
What are your top five “desert island” books?
Oh boy… This is almost impossible to choose, but I’ll try. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton because it had such an impact on me when I first read it. This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers because it has all the feelings and zombies. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green because of the emotions portrayed. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness because he writes a darn good story, even though I would hate not having the sequels with me.
Then, if I was allowed to bring the whole series, it would be a toss up between Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien for an amazing dystopian/sci-fi series and The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken for intense emotions. But I don’t think I could bring either of those if I can’t bring the sequels… So I might settle on The Child Thief by Brom for an awesome depiction of evil Peter Pan.
For Iron Writer 2013, I will be knocking out the first draft of ROLLING BLACKOUTS, the official full-length follow-up to BURN (which some of you may have read — and if you have, thanks!)
If you’d like to pledge some money on my behalf, the donation button is on Iron Writer’s page. Please feel free to send donations of any amount. If you feel like pledging by the word, I am planning on writing at least 10,000 words, possibly more, so donate as your conscience (and pocketbook) allows!
I don’t want to handle the money personally, so if you want your donation to add to my total for prize purposes, please just put my name in the notes when you donate via Iron Writer’s page. The kids get the money either way, which is what really matters.
I will be on Twitter and Facebook on and off Saturday, taking time out to post my progress, so please feel free to follow or “like” me if you want. In the meantime, I’d love it if you could spread the word and share this post around, if you’re so inclined.
Thanks, and I hope you’ll consider pledging some money to St. Jude on my behalf!
As I write this, ORISON is in the hands of my editor at Nine Muse Press. While there is still no official release date, we are officially in the home stretch, and I am as anxious as anyone to get my book in the hands of readers.
Even a year ago, this is not where I expected to be. I recently came across an unpublished interview from 2011 I did for another blogger (we mutually decided to wait until I had a book out before posting it) and I was amazed at how much had changed between the time I answered the questions and now. In said interview, I say, and I quote:
I like Orison, but it’s really just an action-adventure novella. I think it’s an entertaining read, but not what I’d call thought-provoking. It’s basically a big gumball. Fun for a little while, and then you’re done.
Ouch. I’m kind of horrified at that sentiment now, because that’s not how I feel about Orison at all these days. Shaking the book to its foundations, then rebuilding it Steve Austin-style from the wreckage, entirely changed its character and direction, and to me, it’s far from a “big gumball.” It’s now the best thing I’ve ever written, and I’m damn proud of it.
There’s something to be said about humble-bragging and self-deprecation in regards to the answer quoted above, and how it can lead us to devalue our own work, but really, re-reading my own words got me thinking about the lessons we learn from our failed projects.
Fail, Learn, Repeat
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being among other writers, it’s that everybody fails. Projects stall out. Plans fall through. Collaborations blow up in your face. Writers get exhausted, because rewrites and revisions can be an ongoing struggle. Blogs enjoy a strong start and then languish for weeks at a time. (Cough.) Sometimes, the project we think is The Big Thing turns out to be something small, or sometimes nothing at all.
But we can learn a lot from our failures. In fact, we must, if we’re ever going to get anywhere.
When I wrote the answer above, I was working on an epic fantasy called Daughters of the Moon (at the time, I had not bothered Googling to see if the title was taken; it very much is). Daughters is the story of a young woman getting revenge on the murder and kidnapping of her family by making a pact with dark gods. She learns to wield terrible destructive power that gives her the ability to rescue her family, but alienates and terrifies them in the process. The novel was set against the backdrop of an encroaching invasion by foreign powers, and had an ever-growing stable of characters and a rich, complex storyline. I liked it. The people I gave the draft to liked it. It had problems, sure, but it was a good story.
So I kept working on it. It grew in size and complexity. It grew so large it became the first book of a trilogy. I couldn’t wrap it up in the space of a single book, so after finishing and revising the first volume, I wrote a sequel (for Nanowrimo 2011, I believe).
The story grew larger and more complex still. It turned into something majestic and sweeping.
I worked on it some more.
Then I scrapped it.
It wasn’t an easy decision. It hurt like hell, in fact. But the original story had some huge, ground-level problems that I just couldn’t get past, even if my loyal beta readers could. I had written entire subplots to distract myself from my lack of a coherent ending. I had run circles around the story problems, perhaps in the hope that they would grow dizzy and fall down. And, finally, I decided that it just wasn’t Daughter‘s time.
So I put it to rest. Then I picked through its corpse and took some shiny bits for Orison, dressing my new darling up in my dead darling’s prose. Ghoulish and merciless, but that’s show biz, sweetheart. Sometimes fiction is a form of necrophilia. It’s not pretty, but it’s true.
I still love Daughters of the Moon. I may revisit it someday, under a title that’s not taken. Or it may just become part of the writer’s compost heap, slowly decaying as the best bits of it float away to become part of something else.
The circle of life, or something.
Love Your Dead Books
So what’s the lesson here? Sometimes, you have to know when a project just can’t be salvaged. Even something that’s actually pretty good. Editing and revision is hard, necessary, vital work, but sometimes, a story is better off being torn apart for scrap than held together with baling wire and solder so it can limp across the finish line.
Knowing where to draw that line is a deeply personal thing, so I have no real advice for you there. I believe that inspiration is, at times, overrated; that we as writers often hope that our hearts will always sing with joy for the stories we tell, but that ain’t always the case. Some days, we’re just going to wake up, look at our manuscript, and be this far from throwing it in the trash.
And sometimes, that’s what needs to be done. But the question is, what did you learn from it?
For me, I learned that I’m an outliner, not a pantser. That I damn well better know the ending before I start, or I’ll just keep writing while I search for one. I learned that I can inflate my word count to enormous proportions while I flail about for an arc, and then later I’ll despair as I must stalk my darlings and shoot them in the back of the head, one by one. And if that sounds morbid, believe me, it is. So I learned to write a leaner cut of story from the beginning, and save those poor orphans from a terrible fate in the cemetery of prose.
I learned that sometimes you have to walk away, instead of continuing to tinker.
And that sometimes, that can be a beautiful thing.